Not Even Novelist Daniel Silva Can Make Sense Out Of The Obama Strategy In Syria
HH: The Drudge Report is filling up with headlines at this hour of the President’s interviews across all the networks. And the results are pretty extraordinary. Harry Reid has postponed the vote. In fact, the array of developments is so bizarre, I thought earlier today I had to reach out to a novelist to find out if anyone would write a book this absurd. And of course, the best thriller writer at work today is Daniel Silva. His The English Girl, number one New York Times bestselling novel of the summer, joins me now. Daniel, welcome back. We’ve never actually talked about breaking news before on the air, but I thought this was appropriate to talk to you, to ask what would Gabriel Alon do in this situation?
DS: I think that…you know it’s bad, okay, you know it’s bad when Howard Fineman, who has been a reliable defender of this President throughout, when Howard Fineman goes on the air a few minutes ago and says it’s amateur hour, and I think that is the feeling up and down Washington, regardless of whether you’re a supporter of the President, a Democrat, a Republican, a journalist who leans one way or the other. I think that one of the longest lasting elements of this whole tragic comedy is going to be that the President has really shown himself to be, I hate to use this word, but completely incompetent. I mean, they have made misstep after misstep after misstep. And we find ourselves at the end of this day in this remarkable situation with this new Russian proposal on the table, and it’s the result of a misstep.
HH: Yeah, it’s the Russians accepted an offer that was never intended to be made, which had been denied by the time, and then the…
DS: (laughing) It’s almost, if it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny.
HH: But you wouldn’t write this, right? You wouldn’t come up with a plot this absurd.
DS: No, I don’t write, there’s a little bit of comedy in all my books, but, and I’m a pretty funny guy, I think, but I could never make this up. I mean, it is a real farce. And so here we are, we’re latching onto this proposal that the Russians have thrown out with this, and by the way, they do know what they’re doing.
DS: They do know what they want. They’re ruthlessly going about getting what they want. And what they want is Assad to remain in power.
HH: In fact, I wish people would read The English Girl right now, because part of The English Girl is a very focused interpretation of what is going on in Russia today, and who is running Russia. In fact, in your last books, you’ve dealt with Russia extensively.
DS: I have.
HH: You’ve also dealt with Iran and Hezbollah.
DS: I have.
HH: And what I wanted to ask you is what do you think they think of what’s going on here?
DS: Well, let’s start with Russia, first of all. I think that Putin got a real glimpse of who he was dealing with when time after time, he would show himself for what he was, which is a dictatorial, brutal fascist, in my opinion. I think that fascism is an accurate label to apply to what is going on in Russia right now. And we kept offering him resets and re-resets, and reaching out and trying over and over again to have a relationship with this guy. And I think that he got a very accurate impression of who Obama was, and what this administration was about. And what he wants is to maintain his friend and his naval base in Syria. And by the way, they don’t, the Russians get nervous when they see authoritarian regimes under the gun, because they are also an authoritarian regime, and they don’t want to be under the gun. They don’t want Red Square to turn into Tiananmen Square or Tahrir Square. And so they’re defending this guy. And so now we’ve given them this opportunity to step in at the last minute with this crazy proposal, which we can get to in a moment, but I think that the Russians have very craftily played their hand in this situation.
HH: Jeffrey Goldberg began the program today by pointing out the idea of the Russians, of trusting the Russians to trust and verify is baffling, that they…
DS: But here we are. Official Washington is aglow tonight, because we have a way out of this standoff that we should have never been in, in the first place.
DS: …if the President hadn’t drawn a red line that he says he didn’t draw in the first place. And so it’s just bizarre. How are we going to go in there and find chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war of the brutality of what’s going on in Syria right now?
HH: Yeah, it’s impossible.
DS: Here’s the next question. Let me pose one more question before we move on. I thought our policy was that, and in fact, I’m sure the President said it a couple of times, that Bashar must go.
DS: But now we’re going to enter into negotiations with Bashar? I mean, doesn’t hat sort of legitimize him as the legitimate and lawful ruler of Syria, this guy who’s just used chemical weapons against his own people and should be on trial for his life at the Hague, if there’s a God?
HH: And it’s a roadmap.
DS: And now we’re going to negotiate with him?
HH: Yeah, it’s a roadmap for every thug. Every thug in the world will take a look at this and decide all you have to do is go long enough, hard enough and gas your own people, and then you’ll be able to stand down the Americans. But I am worried mostly about Iran and their nuclear program, Daniel Silva. They must get a green light out of this, right?
DS: Without question. I mean, look, we’ve shown ourselves to be unwilling to live up to a threat that we made. No one made it for us, no one held a gun to our head. We drew the line, we are the ones that said it was unacceptable, and we didn’t do anything about it. We have said that we are not going to allow them to develop, I believe the word that the President used, I could be wrong, but he very pointedly said capability, not nuclear weapons, but nuclear capability. I mean, if what we’re seeing in Syria has any relationship to how we might react to a situation like that in Iran, I think the Iranians are very, very happy and comfortable tonight.
HH: And in your novelist’s imagination, doesn’t, isn’t it correct for Khamenei to conclude that if the President felt obliged to go to Congress to strike Syria, he would also feel obliged to go to Congress to strike Iran. So Iran is guaranteed of an early warning system.
DS: Well, see, what I thought, I mean, if I were, and thank goodness it’s not true, but President Silva would have gone more the way that Reagan did after the La Belle Disco bombing, and that is that we said very clearly to Qaddafi, stop this kind of behavior or we’re going to hit you. And they carried out the bombing, and we hit him so hard and so quickly and so personally, I mean, let’s remember that there’s no grand ideology holding the Syrian state together or underpinning the Assad regime. It is a mafia regime, that it’s a family business. And we could have very swiftly and ruthlessly hit targets that hurt not only the military, but the Assad family. And that’s what I’m afraid I would have done if he wields out these weapons and kills people, to die a suffocating, choking, horrendous death. We should have hit him very swiftly and quickly and hard, and made it hurt personally. But this idea of dragging it out, and then, you know, today, in an effort to win support on the Democratic left, I mean, Senator Kerry, who I think until today has behaved and conducted himself admirably through all this, said that the attack was going to be unbelievably light. What the heck is that? Why bother?
HH: Yeah, why bother.
DS: Really, why bother at all?
HH: Do you think the President, we’ve got a minute left, do you think President Obama can learn from this, because it’s 40 months, Daniel. So this is a long time until he’s done.
DS: Can he learn from this? Without question. I mean, all presidents learn on the job, and this is the first time he has been confronted. He has been winding down our involvement in two wars in the Middle East. He does not want a new war in the Middle East. He’s deeply ambivalent about this. But I think that he will come away with one important lesson, and that is that when the president speaks, his words matter. His words have consequences, and you can’t draw a line in the sand and then try to back away from it. It hurts you, it hurts the United States, and that’s where we find ourselves right now.
HH: Daniel Silva, thanks for making some time tonight. It takes a novelist to understand this fiasco. The English Girl is his latest number one New York Times bestseller. Read them all, like I say every year when I talk to Daniel.
End of interview.